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How HBO's 'Westworld' Became TV's Hottest Project

The drama, about an adult amusement park populated by lifelike robots, is attracting an A-list ensemble cast

Anthony Hopkins Ed Harris Split - H 2014
AP Images/Invision
Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris

This story first appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

HBO's Westworld is building an A-list ensemble cast — despite the fact that most of the actors will play robots. Actually, that's the allure.

Based on Michael Crichton's 1973 film and written by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the pilot stars Anthony Hopkins in his first series-regular role as an inventor who runs an adult amusement park populated by lifelike robots.

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter these androids — played by castmembers including James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton — can be killed off and return with completely different personas, allowing actors to play many characters in the same season.

That creative device, one top talent agent says, is helping HBO attract a premier cast (which also includes Ed Harris, Miranda Otto and Jeffrey Wright). And unlike the actors on such anthology series as FX's American Horror Story and HBO's own True Detective, which reboot themselves every season, the cast of Westworld is signing multiyear deals.

"This is built as a series and, in terms of storytelling, I think the rules are definitely being broken," says HBO programming president Michael Lombardo of the sci-fi Western from executive producers J.J. Abrams, Jerry Weintraub and Bryan Burk. "The promise of the show, in terms of where it's going, is exciting to actors, and they want to be a part of this."

Westworld — a rare outside studio buy for HBO, from Warner Bros. Television — is filming its pilot in Los Angeles in August as it awaits word on a pickup, which, given its pedigree, is expected.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit